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Steve Clarke looking forward to a full Hampden Park when Scotland face Israel

Steve Clarke File Photo
(Image credit: Andrew Milligan)

Scotland boss Steve Clarke is looking forward to his first full house at Hampden Park in the crucial 2023 World Cup qualifier against Israel next month.

After the former Kilmarnock and West Brom manager took over his national team in May 2019, matches against Cyprus, Russia, Belgium, San Marino and Kazakhstan failed to pack out the national stadium.

After the implementation of Covid-19 restrictions in 2020, fixtures at Hampden Park were played behind closed doors with almost token attendances for the 2020 Euros games against Czech Republic and Croatia this summer before around 40,000 turned up for the World Cup qualifying win over Moldova earlier this month.

As they look to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 1998, Scotland are second behind runaway Group F leaders Denmark, four points clear of Austria and one point above Israel with the play-off spot in their own hands and there will be just under 50,000 inside Hampden for the visit of Willi Ruttensteiner’s side, which precedes a trip to the Faroe Islands.

Clarke said: “It is great to see the tickets have sold out for the game. It will be my first experience as head coach of a full house at Hampden so I am looking forward to that.

“The last few years have been pretty strange for everybody. It has been a little bit different, obviously we didn’t quite manage to fill the ground when I first took over, but I think the fact that we are able to sell out a game tells you that the Scottish public are engaging with this team, this squad of players.

“I said the last time that I love my players, I love what they do for the country, love the way they approach the games, they try to be successful and the fact that we have a full house for this game, and I believe the Denmark game is sold out as well, shows that the players are doing something right.

“Hopefully it gives them that little bit extra that gives us an even better performance than maybe we would have got without a crowd.”

Rangers goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin replaced Zander Clark in the squad while Clarke insists he had no reservations about naming midfielders Callum McGregor and Stuart Armstrong.

The Celtic captain has missed the Hoops’ last four matches with a hamstring injury.

Armstrong, who has not played a minute for Southampton this season, returns having pulled out through injury ahead of the 2-0 loss to Denmark earlier in the month.

The former Scotland defender said: “When you name a squad there is still 11 days until match day so plenty of time, a couple of games.

“Callum is in that situation, Stuart Armstrong is in a similar situation but I am hoping that they will both get some minutes over the next couple of games and be fit and available to join the squad.

“The medical staff have been in constant touch, we know where the players are at and as always we will treat them as well as we can.”

Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay is also back in the squad after he needed groin surgery last month which forced him to miss the triple-header against Denmark, Moldova and Austria.

Clarke said: “It’s good to get as many of your better players in the squad as possible. Scott is certainly one of those so it is good to have him back.”

Clarke was also pleased that the new member of his backroom staff, Austin MacPhee, the set-piece coach for Aston Villa, will finally join up after missing the last camp with Covid-19 issues.

He said: “Austin has recovered from Covid thankfully, so he will join us for the first time. He will bring something different to the staff, fresh ideas, which is good.

“Steven Naismith jumped in at the last minute in the last camp to help out and I have decided to keep Steven on the staff for this camp as well, he is a good conduit between myself and the players and obviously I have my trusted side-kick John Carver who does a great job for us.”